cologne njemačka policija police germany.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MAJA HITIJ

The interior minister of the state in which Cologne is located went on the offensive Monday at an extraordinary parliamentary meeting to look into the mass sexual assaults and thefts in the Western German city on New Year's Eve.

Ralf Jaeger, ultimately the employer of North Rhine-Westphalia's police, placed the blame squarely at the feet of the force's management.

"The Cologne police should have reacted to the developments and should have fallen back on additional officers available on New Year's Eve," Jaeger said.

He rejected any responsibility, saying: "It is impossible that a ministry could or would want to intervene in any way in an operative situation."

The world has been appalled by the events of New Year's Eve. More than 500 police complaints - 40 per cent of them related to sexual violence - have been filed in Cologne, with smaller numbers in other cities after large gangs of largely young migrant men assaulted new year revellers.

Members of the special committee in the state parliament in Dusseldorf grilled 54-year-old Jaeger for hours.

The attacks represented a "creeping erosion of the law," "a failure of the state" and it would take a long time before the citizens could trust the authorities again, members of the committee said. One accused Jaeger of letting the situation slip out of his control.

The committee demanded an apology from Jaeger and state Premier Hannelore Kraft, saying their silence to date was a "slap in the face of the affected women."

State Office of Criminal Investigation Director Dieter Schuermann said 237 of the 516 complaints received were of a sexual nature, while there were 19 suspects, all non-German and with no fixed address.

Jaeger said it was irrelevant of what nationality the suspects were for a criminal prosecution. He rejected claims he had asked the police to hush up the fact the suspects were migrants. "We don't want to sugarcoat or justify anything," he said.

But he also warned: "To blanket-label certain groups and stigmatize them as sex offenders would be not only wrong but also dangerous."

The comments add further fuel to an ongoing debate in Germany over the repercussions of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow 1.1 million migrants and refugees mainly from the Middle East to enter the country in 2015.

Monday's special parliamentary committee could lead to a further investigative committee, but the police investigations into the New Year's Eve incidents will take some time.

Meanwhile, politicians are concerned that the attacks and perceived poor security situation will have an impact on next month's Cologne carnival, which usually attracts as many as 1 million people to its main parade.

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